Monday, November 30, 2009

Everlasting Edgar

At the suggestion of my blog-buddy Megan, from Two Shorten the Road, I picked up a copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. She said it was about dogs, so I thought it would be a nice detour from what I'd been reading. Little did I know that this guy's very first novel would blow me away!
Wroblewski's style is utterly readable and the story was fascinating. It grabbed my attention and held onto it so firmly that I've felt guilty for neglecting Spouse. Putting it down in favor of conversation, to watch TV or sleep was unthinkable!
There is mystery in this story, but it develops almost surreptitiously. His lovely descriptions of life in rural Wisconsin lulled me into thinking this was just another novel with a happy ending. Nothing wrong with those -- I like happy endings.
The way Wroblewski builds his descriptions of action is tantalizing and compelling. One example is the escalating tension during a storm over Lake Superior. I found myself breathing faster and enjoying the fearsome spectacle from the safety of my chair.
Wroblewski's fellow author, none other than Stephen King, expressed my feelings well when he said: "I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Wonderful, mysterious, long, and satisfying: readers . . . are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip."
I look forward to Wroblewski's next novel which can't come soon enough!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Twas the night before Thanksgiving When all through the flat Not a creature was stirring, Not even a mouse. The Jell-o mold for tomorrow Was chilling in the fridge In hopes that Thanksgiving Would soon let us eat it. The children were nestled All snug in their beds; With visions of turkey legs Dancing in their heads; And my honey in his chair And I in mine Had just settled down for A long Capital's game, When out in the sky there Arose such a clatter, I sprang from my chair To see what was the matter. Out to the balcony I flew like a flash, Spouse wondering "what the heck . . ." The moon in the southern sky lit up the deck and Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects above When what to my wondering eyes should appear But a squawking big V of Bright white swans Heading for Chesapeake Bay.
I so wish I'd thought to pick up my camera. Those swans shown bright white against the dark sky and sounded like a gaggle of old ladies in heat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Preying in Foggy Bottom

Thanks to this big dude of a hawk? falcon?:
-- the gang of crows that usually swoops and poops through my neighborhood is gone;
-- the sparrows that like to gather and chat on our balcony railing have disappeared;
-- squirrels that usually scurry up trees and across the lawn are nowhere to be seen.
There is an uncommon peace with this guardian angel in the tree! Of course it's only temporary until he/she leaves for better hunting grounds.
[I dragged Spouse out of his death bed to witness this, too. Just teasing -- he's feeling much better thanks to my chicken soup!]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Henry David Thoreau said it so well

Live each season as it passes;
breathe the air,
drink the drink,
taste the fruit,
and resign yourself
to the influences of each.
We humans are so fortunate to enjoy four, distinct seasons, each offering elements that enrich our existence.
Autumn offers a different fragrance -- one of drying leaves and moist earth. Apples, pears, pumpkins, brussels sprouts and other cold weather produce come into season adding diversity to our diet.
The sun eases around to the South, flooding our windows with warmth and light. Nights are longer -- encouraging us to appreciate the warmth and safety of our homes and to look forward to dawn each day.
Thanksgiving is so much more than crowded airports, train stations, highways and overcooked turkeys. It can be an opportunity to stop and to take inventory of our blessings so that we better appreciate our lives. Everyone has something to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The world as I've come to know it may soon end.

SPOUSE HAS THE FLU! When it comes to martyrdom, Joan of Arc ain't got nothin' on Spouse. His suffering is worse than anyone else's in all of written history. If he doesn't cut back on the whining and complaining, that belief of his might actually become fact. But then, ". . . in sickness and in health . . ." comes to mind. I made him as comfortable as I could [warming his side of the bed with my body so he wouldn't have to crawl between cold sheets]. Then I cut up every fresh veggie I could find and made a big, warm, fragrant pot of chicken soup to sustain him through this tribulation. I actually can't stand the smell of chicken soup, but I made the sacrifice. He's taking Tamiflu. As soon as he starts feeling a little better he will do something foolish like going out in the cold rain without a hat or an umbrella, get chilled to the bone and come home in worse shape than when all of this began!! Oh, how I love the man! This, uttered through clenched teeth, must be my mantra for the next week or so. To myself, I will hum this famous refrain from Helen Reddy: I am strong, I am invincible, I am WOOMAAAN!! Then, I'll probably get sick . . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

One hundred four weeks ago today . . .

. . . my Dad passed away. I can still picture the events of that day. Mom, my sibs and I all quietly scurried around, trying to ensure Dad's comfort and trying so hard to deny that it was his last day on Earth. [I think we singlehandedly increased the value of Kleenex stock that day!] Other family members and friends have died, but the death of my father really rocked my boat. He was often too strict, even with his adult children, and criticized with ease. I believe he felt that was expected of him as patriarch of the family. It was his duty to make sure his offspring turned out to be well-mannered, articulate and useful world citizens. As the sole survivor of his immediate family for many years, I sometimes wondered how that affected him. For one thing, he tried ever so sincerely and pretty disastrously to parent his nieces and nephews -- all living thousands of miles away. His brother and sister both died too young and, sadly, had bad luck in multiple marriages each. Their parents both died in their early 70s, so Dad felt lucky to reach the ripe old age of 83 and to have stayed married to the same woman for 62 years. Dad chose the right lady when he married Mom. Her background was very different from his. She loved him enough to help him reshape himself into a better person. Mom came from a close, openly loving family and worked very hard to create the same kind of family for herself and Dad. Despite Dad, she succeeded. I regret that we kids didn't get to know Dad's parents. We lived in northern Illinois and they lived in southern Texas. My grandmother lived with us for a few years after my grandfather died, so I knew her a little better. I sometimes had the impression that sentimentality was viewed as a weakness, but she and Dad could not deny their feelings. Grandma M. was a sweet-faced lady with an iron will. She braved years of caring for a husband who had multiple strokes before one finally took his life. She was so focused on his care, that she neglected herself -- not uncommon among women of her generation. The husband and children always took priority. Too late, doctors found advanced breast cancer in my Grandma M. She endured radical surgery, horrendous chemo and radiation. This was during the 1960s when treatment was more extreme, less effective and more noxious than it is now. Somehow, she always managed a warm smile when I visited her in the hospital and gently rubbed her head. I was afraid to touch her anywhere else because she was in pain and afflicted with wires and tubes. Dad liked to have his crew-cut head rubbed, too. Kids enjoyed doing it because it tickled their hands. He would croon with pleasure, especially when one of his beloved grandchildren was doing the stroking.
Morphine had sent Dad into another realm, but that made no difference to those of us around him. Pete and I debated over what music to play for him even though it probably didn't matter at that point. We were desperate to make his "transition" as smooth and peaceful as possible. Dad had trouble swallowing during his last couple of days, so we kept his mouth moist by dipping stick sponges in water and holding them to his lips. I'm convinced he was letting me know that he was aware of us when he bit off the sponge and wouldn't let me get it out of his mouth. I was terrified that he would choke on it, but he seemed to enjoy moving it around just out of my reach. That was so Dad. The later it got, the more crowded it became on his side of the bed. I resorted to crawling onto the middle of the bed to be closer to him. Never, ever, in a million years would this have happened under any other circumstances. It would have been totally unseemly, but I wasn't satisfied to touch his blanketed foot -- I needed to run my hand across his crew-cut and hold his hand. So . . . Memories linger. At least now I can think about him without crying. I had hoped I might feel his presence as I did his sister's shortly after she died in a traffic accident years ago. I haven't. As staid as Dad was, I think he's still in shock at where his soul has landed. Maybe once he's acclimated, he'll make a call on Mom; she could really use one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Case of Selective Compassion

If all life is sacred, how can Catholic Charities and perhaps other religiously affiliated service organizations threaten to abandon those who need them most? This is what is being threatened here, in D.C. Next month, the D.C. Council will vote on whether or not to endorse same-sex marriage. If they vote in favor of legalizing such relationships, Catholic Charities has said it will no longer accept D.C. funding to help our city's neediest. I can only hope this means they have other funding sources to fulfill their humanitarian mission. Frankly, I don't understand this thinking inasmuch as mankind is supposedly created in the image of God and we are all His children. How does it become OK for a group of people, who claim to be Christians, to decide that some of His creations are unacceptable? I am appalled that any religious organization could shun or abandon anyone. Homosexuality is not a choice. Science has proven that genetics dictate gender identity. Besides, as I've argued before -- why would someone deliberately choose to be a social pariah? Humans are fallible, even those who like to believe they are superior. Men and women, whether or not they identify with their physical bodies, are still human. I cannot imagine God, sitting on His throne in Heaven [or however you picture Him] picking and choosing who is worthy of legally sanctified love and devotion from another human. I may be struck my lightning after I post this, but that's what I believe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11/10/09 -- 9:11 p.m.

This is when John Allen Muhammad breathed his last. He was one of the infamous D.C. Snipers although he and his young protégé killed innocent strangers across the country. Today's news stories include comments from witnesses to the lethal injection execution, some of whom were family members of victims. Few felt closure. I think I understand. October 2002 was a terrifying time in our region. We were still staggering in disbelief from the horrors of September 11 the year before and now someone was randomly shooting people. Everyone was on edge and scurried about like scared mice when we had to go out grocery shopping or for doctor appointments. I, for one, did not go out for any other reason. Watching someone die for taking the lives of others is not my idea of closure. I do not support the death penalty, yet I do not support the way American prisons pamper inmates. Separating evil people from society should not require that we educate them or provide them with entertainment. Just as prisoners of war are entitled to humane treatment, any one who is imprisoned for committing a crime should be treated humanely. Anything beyond that is not appropriate. Blanket statements like those don't address the varying degrees of criminal activity. There are inmates being held for far less heinous crimes who should be allowed to earn extras like books and perhaps time to listen to music or view television. The worst of the worst, as I feel Muhammad was, should be kept isolated so that they are forced to think about their crimes and to perhaps discover remorse. Any punishment is predicated on the fact that proof supports a guilty sentence. New forensic techniques like DNA matching are making this more realistic. Too many innocent persons have been imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Some have even been executed and found innocent afterwards. This is disgraceful. To those whose loved ones were victims of this man, I want to express my sincerest condolences and hope that they can find peace in knowing that he can no longer cause harm.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Latest Reads

Ever since I discovered that Goodwill is a good source for cheap books, I've been reading up a storm. These books are not on the current best-seller list, but they've been satisfying reads just the same. Having already read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, I was pleased to find a copy of her 2002 best seller, Portrait in Sepia. It is a fascinating period piece that takes place in post-goldrush/anti-Chinese San Franscisco and Chile. Social climbing and sabotage were popular and practiced with enthusiasm. Prejudices were as appalling then as they are now although fewer were spared from its stigma. Margaret Sayers Peden did an excellent job of translating from Spanish to English. This book was so enthralling that I read it in record time -- didn't want to put it down! For a break from such sordid affairs, I picked up a book that I totally judged by its cover. Putting on the Ritz was written in 1991 by Joe Keenan. I laughed out loud so many times, Spouse thought I was losing my mind. It is almost disgracefully funny with witticisms that remind me of Cole Porter or Oscar Wilde. It's a contemporary story involving every NYC stereotype you can imagine in a bit of a slapstick situation. A quick read and very amusing! Last night I finished Drifting written by Stephanie Gertler in 2003. The novel reads almost like several stories in one book. The main character, Claire, grew up with her father after her mother walked out on them when Claire was a toddler. All her life, she held onto confused and angry feelings about that fact. She found the love of her life, had two children and got on with her life . . . until. Claire and her husband have just become empty-nesters and own a bed and breakfast in Drifting, CT. They're about to close it for the season when a bedraggled man and his blind daughter show up. Reminded of her own personal history she encourages them to stay. From there, interesting twists and turns lead to a surprise ending.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nostalgia Strikes Again

I'm still sorting through old family photos. I'm determined to tame them and corral them into albums. Some of the old point-and-shoot photos are lousy quality, but I clearly remember circumstances around them, so they bring back good memories.
This one conjured fun memories of accompanying my nephew, Zach, his parents and my parents to the Smithsonian to visit the dinosaur exhibit about 10 years ago. He knew the names for most all of them. I like their reflection in the vitrine.
In this one on the left, someone had questioned Zach's identity of the croc, thus the sardonic smirk.
After visiting the dinosaurs and the Smithsonian Castle exhibit of old trains, he took a ride on the carousel. He spent two rides, watching the movement of the machinery overhead. He was far more fascinated by that than the actual ride.
It's so hard to accept that Zach is nearly finished with high school now. Hasn't someone come up with a "slow-growth"pill so that we can keep kids younger longer?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dogs are People, Too!

I needed a little cheering today, so I've been clicking on some of my favorite links. This one, in The Daily Dish By Andrew Sullivan, always warms my heart. It's footage of a guy returning home from Iraq and how his two dogs greet him. Watching the "Dog Whisperer" I can see how they are communicating with him as the pack leader. They offer their rear ends so that he can identify them by their smell -- how cute is that?! At about 21 seconds, the brown and white dog gazes into the guy's eyes as if to say, "Is it you; is it really you?" This world is a better place because of dogs.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Same Sex Marriage and Separation of Church and State

No, I haven't been living on another planet, but I do feel like we've lost sight of a fundamental, American axiom: separation of church and state. Same sex marriage is simply one example of why I am confused. Shouldn't it be left to the various religious denominations to determine whether or not to perform marriages for anyone? For example: would it be appropriate to ask a Greek Orthodox priest to marry a Jewish couple or a Presbyterian minister to marry a Muslim couple? Why should government, at any level, have anything to say about who can marry whom? This may sound like an trivial comparision, but when I was a Girl Scout and Girl Scout Sunday was to be observed at the local Roman Catholic church, we Protestant girls were not allowed to attend. It was not because our churches didn't want us to. It was because the Catholics did not. I don't recall any girls running to our mayor's or governor's office to complain about it. We accepted it as custom -- regrettable, but them's the breaks. Civil laws are separate from religious canons. This, of course would not stand up in a court of law if, say some denomination decided to start making human sacrifices during worship services. Murder is still a no-no in both realms. But then again there is a denomination whose members test their faith by handling venomous snakes . . . but I digress. If the representative, governing body of a denomination decides that it is permissable to marry persons of the same gender, should it be left to the discretion of each congregation within that denomination to decide whether or not to abide by that decision? Sadly this has separated members within the same congregation. I know tax laws and church property controls are also at issue in these cases. I still don't see a role for government in these disputes. Whether or not same sex couples should be allowed to marry in civil ceremonies should be handled the same way it is for agnostics. The legal, civil binding of two persons is simply a contract of exclusivity. With that come rights and responsibilities for the two parties. Why is that so hard to accept?